Donnie Carona won’t find himself anywhere near the top of Texas Tech’s career scoring leaders when the 2011 season — and his career as a Red Raider — ends.
But the senior kicker still has the chance to etch his name into the single-season record book. Carona is five field goals shy of tying the record of 17 set by Bill Adams (1979), Ricky Gann (1984) and Lin Elliott (1991).
He’s reached this point despite having his starting spot taken by a contest winner three years ago and having three of his 16 kicks this season blocked.
“It’s been a long career, started really slow,” Carona said. “And I’m thankful for what I’ve been able to do this year and for kind of the second opportunity.”
Carona was Tech’s starting kicker as a freshman in 2008, but he made just four of nine attempts that year. He was later replaced by Matt Williams, who came out of the Jones AT&T Stadium stands and kicked a 30-yard field goal in the Lynnwood Townhomes “Kick For Rent Contest.”
Former coach Mike Leach took notice of the kick and made Williams the starter for the last six games of 2008 and the entire 2009 and 2010 seasons.
Carona continued to handle kickoffs, then struggled some more with field goals last season. He made 1 of 4 attempts.
“Last year the only thing he did was kickoffs,” coach Tommy Tuberville said, “and we were a little skeptical of what he could do field-goal wise.”
Carona entered the 2011 season as the only suitable starting kicker, and he made sure not to spoil his second chance. Other than the three blocked kicks, he’s made 12 of 13 field goals —— remarkable accuracy for a kicker who had displayed a strong but erratic leg for most of his career.
“I worked pretty hard this past spring and summer knowing it was my job to lose,” Carona said. “And kind of just realizing that football is just a game and having fun with it. And if you don’t realize that, then you won’t succeed.”
The senior has come on strong for Tech since the start of Big 12 Conference play. The Red Raiders attempted only one field goal through their first three games of the season — a 23-yard chip shot against New Mexico.
Carona made four of five field-goal attempts Oct. 8 against Texas A&M, but the game also started a stretch in which three of four kicks were blocked.
Coaches added defensive tackle Kerry Hyder to the field-goal protection unit, and since then Carona has made six in a row.
“Taking back the things that were really out of his control, the ones that got blocked, he’s really done well,” Tuberville said. “He’s been on target, been consistent and that’s all you ask from a kicker.”
Tuberville then took his compliments of Carona a step further.
“He’s probably been one of the brighter points this year for us,” he said.
Carona has three games left to make the five field goals he needs to tie the single-season record. The Red Raiders host No. 2 Oklahoma State at 11 a.m. Saturday, then travel to face Missouri and Baylor.
He’ll be honored before Saturday’s game as part of a senior day ceremony.
“It’s definitely flown by,” Carona said of his Tech career. “I can remember my recruiting trip. I can remember getting here for the first day. ... It’s been fun, and coming to realize that I’ve enjoyed it is definitely making it better on and off the field.”
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